The language of jazz and te reo Māori

14 September 2022

A passion for te reo Māori has inspired Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) Librarian and jazz musician Lisa Davies (Kāi Tahu) to bring te reo into all facets of her life.

  • Lisa Davies

    Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury Librarian and jazz musician Lisa Davies (Kāi Tahu).


Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education

Lisa has been learning te reo for the last six years, motivated by a desire to reconnect with her heritage, as well as being able to support Māori staff and students in her role as Kaitakawaenga Ako.

“My motivations include wanting to be able to express myself fluently in my own language, but also to provide library services in te reo Māori for our ākonga Māori. I want to be able to experience all facets of my world in te reo Māori, and I believe our ākonga Māori should be able to experience all aspects of university life in our reo too. I can play a small part in helping that by providing spaces, tools and tautoko in our reo Māori within my role as Library support.”

In her role, Lisa is part of a long-term collaboration at UC to create a te reo Māori version of APA 7th referencing – the international author/date citation style.

“Currently our ākonga who are submitting their mahi and assignments in te reo Māori need to default to APA 7th or other referencing styles which are all in English, as there is no formal style in te reo Māori. It would be amazing if we had an official referencing style in te reo Māori so that students could uphold the mana of the reo within the entirety of our academic writing.”

Lisa’s interest in making te reo more accessible has also led to her combining jazz and te reo Māori. In 2019 Lisa led a band of Māori jazz musicians in a performance of translated jazz standards at the New Zealand International Jazz and Blues Festival. The kaupapa has grown from there with Ngā Reo Tīoriori, a collective of Māori jazz musicians. Most recently the group held a celebration performance for Matariki and in October will perform the gala concert at the Christchurch Big Band Festival.

Lisa has also been working on a project for her UC te reo course that involves researching the traditional language and compositional style of mōteatea to implement within her translation of jazz waiata, online here.

“I wanted to bring together my two worlds – the language of jazz and the language of te reo Māori,” says Lisa. “I love the idea that people can experience a whole gig or concert in te reo Māori, and I think the improvised nature of jazz lends itself really well to showcasing the beauty and fun of te reo Māori.”

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